First Things First

During a season in which they were trying to keep their heads above water, it’s kind of amazing that they were concerned about keeping others afloat as well.

You don’t necessarily expect “a wealth of generosity” from a group “in a severe test of affliction.” If there’s anybody you’d excuse from getting on board with a giving campaign, it’s those who are going through the ringer themselves. And yet, for the churches of Macedonia, their time of troubles and their “extreme poverty” birthed a joyful generosity. In fact, they begged Paul to participate in gracing the saints in need in Jerusalem by providing them some financial relief.

So how come? What motivated a people in severe need themselves to focus on those in need elsewhere? Short answer: They put first things first.

. . . they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

(2Corinthians 8:5b ESV)

They gave themselves before they gave their money. They presented their bodies as a living sacrifice to God (Rom. 12:1) before they tithed from what little treasure they had. Having given themselves first to the Lord, they then were in a state to be directed by the Lord. Having given themselves to Jesus, Jesus moved them, graced them, and enabled them to give as they could to others.

Their testing compelled them towards Jesus. He was the ultimate prize in their affliction. He is always the prize. Our times of trial are the perfect space to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection even as we share in His sufferings (Php. 3:10). And drawing closer to Jesus, abiding in the shelter of His wing, drawing from the life-giving strength of the vine, these Macedonian believers were able to look beyond their own affliction and show affection to brothers and sisters in similar situations.

We start with giving ourselves continually to the Lord — and that only by His grace. Then, as we abide in Jesus and He lives through us, that same grace abundantly flows, according to His will, as He uses us in the lives of others. Acts of temporal generosity ignited by living into His eternal gift. Doing good because we’ve determined to give ourselves fully to Him, trusting in His goodness. Our works motivated by His moving, even as, despite our circumstance, we rest in His finished work.

First things first.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Worship Work

So, who is serving who in a “church service?” Is God serving His people when they gather, or are His people to be serving God when they gather? Certainly, in our consumerist culture we are most naturally wired to thinking we should be served. And to be sure, we are ministered to by God on a Sunday morning as He visits us with His presence when we come together as a living temple of God by His Spirit. We are served by God as He speaks to us through His preached word. But as I chew a bit on Psalm 100 this morning, I’m reminded that we also get to serve God as His people when we gather. We do that with worship work.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into His presence with singing! now that the LORD, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.

(Psalm 100:1-3 ESV)

I think the songwriter is repeating the same thing three times in three different ways.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD = Serve the LORD with gladness = Come into His presence with singing!

When His people gather — those He has made in His own image and redeemed to be His own special possession — they are to make a joyful noise to the LORD. When His sheep come together as a flock, they are to serve the Great Shepherd with gladness and singing in His presence.

It’s service, or work, we can all render to God. And, if I can use the term, it’s kind of a “gimme.”

That portion of our church gatherings where we are called to sing together — regardless of what type of music or how many songs we sing — is a time presented to us when we can serve together. Where we can labor for the Lord as a body. No special gifting or talents required. Sure, if you can sing in key or keep a beat, bonus! But more than once I have been beside a dear saint who embraces “making a joyful noise” even though they know they can’t carry a tune. But hey, they’re not singing to me, they’re serving their Savior.

Full disclosure: I’m naturally a music guy so I am going to have a natural bias towards the music opportunity we have when we gather as a congregation. But Psalm 100 is a supernatural lyric, it’s God-breathed. So, when gathered in His presence, shouldn’t His people have a supernatural bias towards serving Him in song? I’m thinking.

Worship in song shouldn’t be that part of the “church service” that we endure because we’re not “into the music” and so it’s not serving me very well. Nor should it be regarded as just the “prelims” before the “main event” of being fed from the pulpit and so, attendance and participation is optional.

No, when we get a chance to sing as a church, we should embrace the chance to sing as a church. We should enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. With gusto, we should give thanks to Him and bless His name (Ps. 100:4).

We should serve Him. For He is worthy of church service.

For the LORD is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.

(Psalm 100:5 ESV)

Worship work. Let’s do it!

Because of grace. For His glory.

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Keep Me from Foolishness

It was the pragmatic thing to do. Given the situation, it was the best way forward. There was an enemy army at hand. There was a battle to be fought. And his army was becoming increasingly agitated by waiting to get in the game, some even “scattering from him.” He had to engage his men or he feared losing his men. But before he could do that, there were boxes to be checked. One of those was honoring the LORD and invoking His favor. And though that was to be done by another, given the reality of the situation Saul took matters into his own hands. He offered the burnt offering. And, says the Spirit through Samuel, he had done foolishly.

He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him. Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you.”

(1Samuel 13:8-13a ESV)

Who’s gonna argue with Saul’s reasoning? He wanted to see the right thing done. He even knew it should be done in the right way. So, he waited for Samuel — for seven days! But when Samuel didn’t show, and as his men were increasingly going AWOL, it was time to get ‘er done! And so, he did what he thought was the practical thing to do. And the right thing was done, but in the wrong way. And it was foolishness.

The danger of noodling on the compromise of pragmatism is that you get labeled as a legalist. That you’re seen as a “letter of the law” guy and not a “freedom of the Spirit” guy. But despite the “danger”, as I hover over this passage, I can’t help but think there is direct instruction here about obedience. Doing what God says in the way God says it should be done. Not aiming for close enough because it’s good enough given that the circumstances make it seem enough in light of the realities of a situation.

The way of the Spirit is the way of faith. And it would have taken faith, dependence on God, for Saul to have waited for Samuel to arrive and do the right thing in the right way. Saul’s pragmatic reasoning and response was a reflection of a greater trust in himself than in His God. It showed he had a skewed view of the efficacy of burnt offerings — that somehow, they had value in and of themselves rather than as a reflection of the heart of the burnt offering offerer. Obeying God by doing the right thing in the right way is reflection of a heart tuned to God’s heart.

“But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.”

(1Samuel 13:14 ESV)

A man after God’s own heart is a man who obeys God’s commands. Not to earn favor, but to exhibit faith. Not because it’s necessarily practical, but because it relies on God’s power. Not because it guarantees that things will play out as we think they should, but because we believe it will play out as God has sovereignly determined they should.

There’s a place for pragmatism. A place for discerning reality and determining a logical path forward for success. But not when it comes to matters were God has specifically revealed how to accomplish God’s work in God’s way. Not that the work won’t get done, or the victory won’t be won — for God is faithful and His grace is overflowing. But that, in our pragmatism, in our wisdom concerning how we think the God of heaven should do things given the reality around us, we end up being foolish. The work done, but our efforts wasted. The battle won, but the prize forfeited.

Father, give me clarity on those things I’m called to do in a way which You have determined. Keep me from leaning to my own understanding of how, practically, they can best be accomplished. Create in me a heart after Your own heart that I might walk in Your ways after Your way. Keep me from foolishness.

By Your grace. For Your glory.

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Prearranged Seating

Hovering over something Jesus told His disciples in Mark 10. And it has me wondering what all lies before us when we see Jesus’ glory given that we know there’ll be prearranged seating.

And [Jesus] said to [James and John], “What do you want Me to do for you?” And they said to Him, “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in Your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. . . . but to sit at My right hand or at My left is not Mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

(Mark 10:36-37, 38a, 40 ESV)

The main point of the passage in front of me isn’t about heavenly preparation, it’s about the upside down-ness of heavenly exaltation — “whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (10:43). But I’m in awe this morning that whoever sits at Jesus’ right or left hand in the kingdom isn’t something still to be figured out but that it is for whom it has been prepared.

Seating at the head table, as it were, has already been determined. Name plates (if we’ll need such things) already set out for the marriage supper of the Lamb. Individual robes of righteousness and garments of praise already cloaking the backs of chairs waiting for their specific recipients to take their seats for the wedding celebrations.

So, if the seating has already been prearranged, what else is being prepared?

I know there’s a city prepared (Heb. 11:16). I know there’s a house with many rooms being prepared (Jn. 14:2). But if details such as seating are already determined, what else has been planned for us? I can only imagine! Or, maybe I can’t.

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”.

(1Corinthians 2:9 NKJV)

Hmm, prearranged seating . . .

Prepared according to God’s grace. To be occupied one day soon for God’s glory.

Kind of awe invoking!


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Now in This Time, and in the Age to Come

I love Peter. Not because he’s so perfect, but because he’s so real. And, because his realness showcases Christ’s patience with those less-than-perfect people He calls to represent Him.

Reading in Mark 10 this morning. Jesus encounters a young man who wants to know what he must do “to inherit eternal life” (Mk. 10:17). Obey the commandments of Moses, says Jesus. “Check,” replies the young man, been there doing that. Then, says Jesus, sell all that you have — exchange it for treasure in heaven — and come follow Me. To which the young man then replies, “Checking out!” And the young man walks away sorrowful, “for he had great possessions” (10:22). It was too great a price to pay for eternal life (that’s a whole other point to ponder).

Okay, this is where Peter comes in. (Did I mention I love that guy?) He’s been listening in. He hears the whole conversation. He processes what Jesus told the young man and starts doing the math in his head. I’ve walked away from my source of income to follow Jesus. I’ve said goodbye to my wife, my kids, my home for extended periods of time as a I’ve followed Jesus on His itinerant ministry. I’ve taken a hit from friends and family who are suspect of my Teacher’s radical ways. So, is it the same deal for me?

Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left everything and followed You.”

(Mark 10:28 ESV)

Jesus, what you told that young dude to do, we have done. “What then will we have?” (Matt. 19:27).

And I think Jesus thought it was a fair question, because Jesus answers Peter without rebuke.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for My sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

(Mark 10:29-30 ESV)

And I read that, and I think to myself, “Self, that looks like a promise to claim. Pull out the orange-colored pencil and shade it.” But then I think, is it really real? Does it reflect the reality for those who for centuries have left behind “everything” to follow Jesus? Does it reflect my reality?

Not that I’ve left “everything”, but for me to declare Christ as my Savior at the age of 19 cost me something with family and friends. No longer tracking on the same path, or thinking the same way, or valuing the same stuff. Referred to by some as a “bible-thumper”, assessed by others as someone who “grew up so smart and ended up so dumb.” A very real sense that, though I had already moved out of the house, I had now left home and family. Maybe I too could have asked, “What then will I have?”

So, does Jesus’ response ring true? As I noodle on it, “Yes and Amen!”

Having been disconnected somewhat from family, I found myself among this new family, the family of God. Brothers and sisters, and moms and dads, welcoming me, teaching me, encouraging me, befriending me — and to say that it was “a hundredfold” isn’t exaggerating. Houses too. I can’t recall the number of houses I was invited into for meals, for games, for fellowship. The home I left replaced by home after home. All part of the reward, “now in this time”, of owning Jesus as Savior. All with the ever-increasing, ever sure hope of eternal life “in the age to come.”

Yet the promised “return on investment” hasn’t just been sunshine and roses. But Jesus covers that too. He said that part of the “reward” would be “persecutions” as well. Yup, known some persecution in my day — not to the extent others have, for sure, but more than if I’d never tried to live for Jesus as Lord of my life. Have known some hardship, too. But through it all, I’ve known also the abiding presence of a faithful God, the ever-present power of His indwelling Spirit, and the unfailing love of His Son who gave Himself for me.

So yeah, I think there’s a promise to claim and a reality to recognize here.

Now in this time, and in the age to come.

By His grace. For His glory.

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God Knows

There’s a lot of stuff going on in the first couple of chapters of 1 Samuel. And it’s all happening at Shiloh, the “place of rest.” Only, there’s not a lot of rest going on.

There, though a family comes to worship, marital discord weighs heavy (the risk you take, I suppose, when you have two wives). They’ve come to offer their firstfruits yet one of the wives is barren and the other is berating. The barren wife is compelled to desperately pour out her soul for a son,yet is misunderstood for being completely drunk.

There’s a bloated high priest who honors his sons more than His Sovereign — sons who were simply bad priests. Bad not as in, not good at their job, but bad as in wicked. Bad as in, though they ostensibly served the LORD, “they did not know the LORD” and had no regard for the LORD. As in, they took what was offered to Jehovah and kept it for themselves. As in, they lay with women who were serving in the LORD’s holy place on the doorstep to the LORD’s holy place. As in, they wouldn’t listen to the voice of their father when he sought to warn them and correct them.

And yet, juxtaposed against all these happenings, is another happening. A prayer answered and a baby born. A vow honored and a young child given to God’s service. A boy who grows in the presence of the LORD, both in stature and in favor.

And as I hover over this out of control dynamic at Shiloh, as I wonder how a kid could flourish amidst such chaos, this is what pops from the page.

And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation.

There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides You; there is no rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed.

(1Samuel 2:1-3 ESV)

God knows. God weighs. God makes right.

There is none like our God. None holy like Him. None solid like Him. None who is able to act as He can act. Because the LORD is a God of knowledge.

If you’re Eli’s sinning sons, that’s a terrifying revelation. If you’re Samuel faithfully serving amidst their sacrilege, it’s a great comfort and source of confidence.

God knows. God weighs. God acts — according to His purposes, all in His timing.

And that’s Shiloh, a place of rest.

Because of His unfailing grace. All for His unfathomable glory.

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A Prayer for an Addiction

They didn’t apply for a role. They weren’t ordained for a task. No title. No job description. No standing, really. And yet, Paul says, “be subject to such as these.”

Now I urge you, brothers — you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints — be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer.

(1Corinthians 16:15-16 ESV)

Devoted themselves to the service of the saints. That’s what I’m chewing on this morning.

Not asked. Not recruited. No arm twisting, no pressure. They devoted themselves. Literally, they ordered themselves. They appointed themselves. They assigned their own responsibility and authority. As fellow recipients of grace, as the firstfruits of Achaia, they saw an opportunity among the body of believers, and they serviced them. They ministered to them. Though they held no office in the church, had no formal standing in the church, received no remuneration from the church, yet they served the church.

And Paul says, “Be subject to such as these” and to all who are like them.

Submit to those with no rank, arrange yourself under those of no position. Do so simply because they serve the saints.

Support them. Encourage them. Assist them, as you’re able. Not because of their title, but because of their task. They are but your “run-of-the-mill” people of God who are ministering to God’s people. Put yourself under their leadership.

Reminded this morning that the church wasn’t designed to be an “institution” but was wired to function as a family. Not to model itself after a business but to reflect the realities of a body. Its structure less determined by organization charts and more reflective of a fluid dynamic of each one arranging themselves under other ones for the good of everyone. Not just a place to attend, but a living, supernatural community to engage with and invest in.

Though it had a different connotation back in the 1600’s I’m sure, I am intrigued by the old King James translation of the original word used to describe Stephanas & Co.’s dedication to serving the saints.

. . . they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints . . .

In an age where we’re more likely to try figure out how we can fit the church into our busy calendars and fulfill our sense of obligation to it, how refreshing is the idea that some — not just the some who are paid — might be addicted to attending to the needs of others. Sinners saved by grace, so moved by grace that they devote themselves to gracing others for God’s glory.

Idealistic? Perhaps. Unrealistic? Don’t think so. I see it happening. Oh, that it would happen more.

That God would work a revival among the saints such that, as but simple saints with no particular standing among the saints, serving the saints might become an addiction valued and honored by all the saints.

That God’s people would be blessed. And that God’s grace would abound. So that God’s glory would be known.

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Under His Wings

Reading Ruth is kind of like engaging in a “Where’s Waldo” book. No, I’m not on the lookout for some skinny dude in a striped red shirt with a beanie on. Instead, I’m actively trying to spot Jesus. In particular, I’m looking for Jesus in the character of Boaz, Ruth’s kinsmen-redeemer. It’s a great way to engage the brain in a story that is so familiar. It’s a also a great way to prime the pump of wonder and worship. This morning I’m captured by what could be seen as a Triune connection, as I’m reminded afresh that I am under His wings.

As I’m reading, I’m first noticing the familiar connections. Boaz is a “worthy man” (2:1), a man of impeachable character. Jesus too. Boaz is a wealthy man, he owns the field (2:3). So too, my Savior owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Boaz came from Bethlehem (2:4). Yup, so did Jesus. Boaz is a blessed man who takes notice of the least of these (2:19). Oh, that the Lord of heaven would take note of specks of creation is wonder for wonder. You get the idea.

But that Boaz is intricately linked as Jehovah’s active agent on earth? That’s something I’m not sure I’ve ever hovered over before.

“The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” ~ Boaz to Ruth

(Ruth 2:12 ESV)

He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” ~ Ruth to Boaz

(Ruth 3:9 ESV)

Boaz commended Ruth for her faithfulness to Naomi and for her faith in the God of Israel. She had followed her mother-in-law but she believed she could find refuge in a heavenly Father. Under His wings she had come to take refuge.

Then Ruth says to Boaz, in effect, you be God with skin on. Would you spread your wings over me? I trust in you as a redeemer.

Okay, is Jesus not there, too? Isn’t that what He did? God in flesh come to redeem and cover us with His blood, and spread over us a garment of righteousness?

Some translations say, “Spread your cloak over me.” Accurate translation. But what it fails to highlight is that “cloak” is the exact same word as “wings”. The wings of the Almighty are the corner of the garment of the Redeemer. To be at the Redeemers feet, covered by His skirt, is to rest in the secure refuge of the God Who Is.

Drop you jaw! Bow your knee. Close your eyes. And put your face to the floor!

Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” ~ Ruth to Boaz

(Ruth 2:10 ESV)

How prophetic was Ruth in chapter 2? The favor she had recognized then was nothing compared to the favor she would know under her Redeemer’s wings in chapter 4. And the “why?” of favor would be her meditation and delight for as long as they both were together.

Us too. Under His wings! Such favor. Amazing grace! Why?

O’ what a Savior!

To Him be all glory!

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Those Who Belong to Christ

I know it’s not supposed to be about me. But this morning it ends up being about me. Maybe that makes sense considering I’m reading about the gospel preached by Paul. The good news that:

. . .Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures . . .

(1Corinthians 15:3a-4 ESV)

I’m feasting on the resurrection chapter this morning. Kind of appropriate considering there’s still an afterglow from the celebration we had on Sunday. Yet, in a passage that is all about the “fact” (v. 20) that Jesus rose from the dead, I’m hovering over some words about me.

But in my defense, Paul is kind of making it about me. For if Christ has not been raised, he writes, then my faith is in vain (v.14). If Christ has not been raised from the dead, I’m still in my sins, my hope is no real hope, and of all people I am “most to be pitied” (v.17-18).

Praise God for a risen Savior! My faith is neither in vain nor is it futile. My hope is a living hope. I am no longer “in my sins”, no longer defined by my sin.

But what particularly captures my attention this morning is what does define me.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.

(1Corinthians 15:20-23 ESV)

Those who belong to Christ — that’s what popped from the page this morning. The implications of belonging to Christ — that’s what I’m chewing on.

In this context, that I belong to Christ is the assurance that what He has experienced in the flesh, resurrection, I will one day experience, as well.

Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?

(1Corinthians 15:54b-55 ESV)

And that where He is, heaven, I will be one day, also.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.” ~ Jesus

(John 14:3 ESV)

But not only has He blazed the trail to a resurrected life in resplendent place, because I belong to Him He’s gonna make sure I get there.

“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day.” ~ Jesus

(John 6:39 ESV)

Not that I get to coast my way to heaven, but that I get to pursue it with confidence. Not that I make no effort, but that I work knowing the work is finished.

In fact, because I belong to Him, it reorients my entire internal GPS. Because I belong to Him, I belong to no one else. Not even me. Because I belong to Him, I live for no one else. Not even me. I am His exclusive property. I belong to Him, thus I am to live for Him.

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

(1Corinthians 6:19b-20 ESV)

I belong to Christ therefore I serve Christ. Worth it? Yeah! Did I mention the resurrection and heaven thing that’s awaiting me?

But the belonging isn’t just about where I’ll be someday and what I should be doing do in the meantime. It’s also about who belongs to me.

I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.

(Song of Solomon 6:3 ESV)

He is the Vine, we are the branches. If I abide in Him, He abides in me (Jn. 15:5). Inseparable! Because I belong to Christ it’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:20). He claims me as His own, I claim Him as my own. Unreal!

This morning I’m savoring some of what it means to be His. The promises, the part I play, and the privilege of an abiding relationship with the risen Christ through His indwelling Spirit.

Those who belong to Christ. Yeah, it kinda is about me this morning.

But only by His grace. And only for His glory.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

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Love Never Fails

I’d like to say that a lot has changed in the last two years. And it has. But if I’m honest, not as much as I’d like — at least when it comes to me.

After my readings this morning, I reread my post from two years ago, some thoughts about not being all that I should be yet being so thankful that Jesus is more than I could ever fully fathom. And I’m reminded that I was repenting of stuff two years ago that I find myself needing to repent of again two years later. And I think to myself, “Self, sanctification can be a slow and frustrating process.” At least for me, the flesh is a persistent and unrelenting combatant with the Spirit. Yet, I trust that Lord is doing His perfect work. ‘Cause love never ends. Or, as the NIV and NKJV puts it, love never fails.

Here are those musings from April 2020.

Honestly, when I open my bible in the morning, I’m counting on it being “living and active” (Heb. 4:12a). I’ve often said that reading our bibles is kind of a guaranteed encounter of the divine kind. The God-breathed Word illuminated by the God-sent Spirit continually pointing us to the God-man Jesus.

But equally honestly, not always prepared for, nor is it ever easy when I open my bible in the morning and it cuts deep like a “two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12b). While I look forward to the awe in the morning, sometimes I get surprised by the ouch! Such is the case this morning.

Honestly again . . . feeling kind of splayed and shredded. Wasn’t expecting it and certainly not from 1Corinthians 13. But yup, splayed and shredded.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

(1Corinthians 13:4-8a ESV)

I read that and the living and active, soul-piercing word cuts open up my heart and reveals, “Pete, this doesn’t completely describe you. Some of these attributes have been absent.” And then, as if piling on, what I just read comes flooding back:

. . . have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal . . . have not love, I am nothing . . . have not love, I gain nothing.

(1Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)

I’ve been working hard over these past few weeks, and for the kingdom. And the thought of just being noise, of accomplishing nothing, of gaining nothing, because I haven’t perfectly operated in love . . . well, that’s shredding. And, I think I can say with integrity, it’s not that I want to be heard, or that I should accomplish anything for my glory, or gain anything for my own sake, but that I want my work to count for the sake of my Savior and for the profit of His people. And to think, just noise? Nothing? Zip, zilch, nada? Kind of shredding.

So, I hover over (or perhaps lie under) this two-edged sword as it does its work on me. And then I’m reminded of John Schoberg and that morning many, many years ago when, around the Lord’s table, he opened his bible to 1Corinthians 13 and for the first time I heard it read this way:

Jesus is patient and kind;
Jesus does not envy or boast;
He is not arrogant or rude.
He does not insist on His own way;
He is not irritable or resentful;
He does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Jesus never ends.

And the Spirit who shreds my soul reminds me that because Jesus is love, and perfectly love, He could die and pay the price for my failing to perfectly love. And so, with shredded heart, I confess my less than perfect love and know that He is faithful and just to forgive my less than perfect love.

And the Spirit who cuts me wide open also reminds me that because it’s true that Jesus lives, it’s also true that He lives in Me. And that while my love can be distorted by the flesh, His perfect love can work in me and through me by His Spirit. So my confession results in a hopeful repentance believing that in Him, through Him, and by Him a 180 is possible as His perfect love, by His abiding power, can become an increasing reality in this imperfect disciple.

So, because of the cross, peace with God edges out the panic at having failed God. And because of the empty tomb, my weak flesh continues to be redeemed by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

And while I haven’t loved perfectly, I’m still perfectly loved.

The sword having done its work. The Savior more than ever worthy of worship.

Because of grace. For His glory.

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